University of Alberta researchers offer physical evidence for chronic
Public release date: 23-Aug-2004
Contact: Phoebe Dey
University of Alberta
University of Alberta study has verified that there is physical
evidence for those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS),
giving new weight to the often stigmatized and misdiagnosed disorder.
Research just published in the "International Journal of
Psychophysiology" determined that, using independent criteria, CFS
can be distinguished from depression--two disorders that share many of
the same symptoms.
is an often debilitating disorder, characterized by a constellation of
symptoms including fever, sore throat, headache, muscle weakness,
myalgias, post-external malaise, sleep and cognitive disturbances. The
level of disability varies for people with CFS, but some individuals
find they are unable to return to work or function normally on a
day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are
subjecttive in nature and are difficult to quantify or confirm, says
Hannah Pazderka-Robinson, the lead author on the study. Not only does
the stigma attached with the disorder play an emotional toll on the
patient, but it has implications for insurance claims as well.
"There are a number of medical professionals who don't believe that
CFS exists in the first place," said Pazderka-Robinson. "The problem
is, both CFS and depression are characterized by very similar
profiles. Imagine a patient who approaches a doctor and tells him they
feel depressed and tired all the time.
"Since depression shows a high co-morbidity with CFS, some CFS
patients are often given antidepressants--that don't work or work
poorly, since they do not address the underlying condition. Again,
when these medications don't work, physicians sometimes jump to the
conclusion that there isn't really anything, physically, wrong.
Obviously, both misdiagnosis and the tendency for doctors to treat
these patients as if they're not really sick can be extremely
distressing. It can also undermine the patient's trust in the doctor
and make them less likely to seek treatment if the condition worsens."
most significant part of the research was to provide independent
verification for CFS sufferers that these patients are different than
normal controls and they're not "just depressed," said Pazderka-Robinson.
Numerous psychological investigations have attempted to differentiate
these groups, with limited success. The U of A study was the first of
its kind to use electrodermal activity-electrodes were placed on each
investigate the differences among CFS, depression patients and healthy
controls. Using tone and light stimuli, the results showed that CFS
can be discriminated from those with major depression by recordings of
skin temperatures and electrodermal activity.
Moreover, the profile of CFS patients is clearly different from normal
controls, suggesting there is a clear biological basis to the
Pazderka-Robinson completed this study with researchers from the
University Centre for Neuroscience at the University of Alberta and
from Alberta Hospital.